CONSTRAINT BREEDS CREATIVITY
The discomfort: What do Steven Spielberg, the Impressionists and the world-famous architect Frank Gehry have in common? They all relied on lack of resource to make bigger, bolder and better decisions. Monet’s
Water Lilies would never have been the masterpieces they are had the Impressionists not limited themselves to only using certain colours and brush strokes. Jaws wouldn’t be Jaws had it stuck to Spielberg’s original plan of using a mechanical shark throughout (it broke midway through filming) instead of the murky water shots and famous two-note theme tune to denote when a character was toast. As for Frank Gehry, the only time he couldn’t design a building was when he was given carte blanche to do what he wanted. Lack of resource is uncomfortable. But sometimes that’s exactly what you need to make original breakthroughs. It’s called a constraintive mindset, and it can help you do brilliant things.
The evidence: A landmark study by the University of Amsterdam tested how constraints affect humans cognitively. Researchers asked students to listen to a series of words and numbers while undertaking a set of challenging tasks. The results? The constraints shifted the
students’ thought processes from localised to globalised thinking. It allowed them to take a big-picture assessment of the situation, rather than a myopic one. Translation: they started to think differently.
The plan: Set yourself deliberate constraints. Cut the time limit on a task, reduce the number of people available to help or limit yourself to using one or two of the resources you have at your disposal. As uncomfortable as it will feel in the beginning, it may well be the answer to kick-starting that idea that has stalled.